Smart Ideas 07/06
What: Plush toy cell phone covers
Who: Julian Parry of Fun Friends
Where: Sarasota, Florida
When: Started in 1999
With cell phones becoming more ubiquitous, Julian Parry thought the market could use some dressing up.
In 1998, while on a fishing trip in Cape Town, South Africa, Parry, 36, noticed the captain had a lobster plush toy fit snugly around his cell phone. The next year, Parry started researching and working with a designer, choosing fabrics and designs that matched his vision: lovable stuffed animals that fit around cell phones.
He spent $50,000 in the first year of development, refinancing his home multiple times and taking loans from friends and family. He worked out of his garage for the first three years to try to get Fun Friends off the ground. Despite receiving positive feedback from magazines, trade show participants and kids, he initially had a hard time selling the furry phone covers. People didn't automatically understand the product, so he had to demonstrate how it worked by fitting peoples' cell phones with Fun Friends. After struggling for three years, Parry enlisted two friends from school, Tim Mihm and Charles Larson, both 37, and the three began traveling extensively to China and different trade shows.
Larson had contacts that allowed the trio to promote Fun Friends at high-profile golf tournaments, and celebrities, including pop princesses Avril Lavigne and Kelly Clarkson and supermodel Heidi Klum, started taking notice.
The years of struggle finally paid off, with the company experiencing growth of more than 300 percent since 2003 and expecting 2006 sales of $6 million. The covers are currently sold at Verizon Wireless stores and Claire's boutiques, and Fun Friends keeps inking deals with national and international distributors.
Fun Friends has over 100 styles and endless ideas for more, says Parry. The cute and cuddly accessories range from Punky the Monkey to Daisy the Cow and are made to fit on bar or flip phones. Parry and his partners are also venturing outside the cell phone arena and are making Fun Friends to fit over staplers, remote controls, iPods and other items. Says Parry, "We're on a nice climb."
-- Amanda Pennington
Take the Plunge
What: Bachelor party adventure trips
Who: Darren Hitz of Adventure Bachelor Party
Where: Franklin, Michigan
When: Started in 2004
Darren Hitz knew there had to be something better for bachelor parties than a weekend filled with booze and exotic dancers. Looking beyond this clichÃ©, Hitz, 29, decided to plan a bachelor party around a weekend of adventurous white-water river rafting in West Virginia.
The trip was a blast, and Hitz knew there had to be others looking for the same kind of thrill--and their future wives' approval. After searching for companies that catered specifically to guys' pre-wedding bashes and finding nothing, he took it upon himself to fill the void.
In 2004, Hitz launched Adventure Bachelor Party with about $8,000 of his own money. Hitz's niche market is one he's intimately familiar with--because it's his own. "Guys are lazy," he says. Hitz gives guys nation-wide the chance to do something they may not think to do on their own and also gives his other client base--local adventure outfitters--a chance to be seen on a national level.
Although the cost doesn't include airfare, just about everything else is taken care of once the group lands at its destination: three- or four-star accommodations, lavish dinners, the adventure itself and transportation throughout the trip.
With over 20 adventures, including cattle herding in Texas and fishing off the San Francisco coast, Hitz is looking to expand his trips while keeping them intimate. He has also created three separate businesses under the parent company he formed, Hitz Adventures, for bachelorette parties, corporate team-building trips and weekend adventures.
Not only is Hitz's business taking off--he expects sales of over $300,000 in 2006--but he's having fun, too. Says Hitz, "I enjoy being able to provide a service where everyone has a great time and is happy."
-- Amanda Pennington
Letter of the Law
What: Online professional assistance service for lawyers
Who: Bob Unterberger of Legal Writing Success
Where: Wilmington, Delaware
How much: $5,000
It wasn't until a friend made a suggestion that Bob Unterberger realized he had a business on his hands. A lawyer and legal writing teacher, Unterberger, 44, had created a simple website in 1999 where his students could post their work and receive his help on assignments.
Word spread about Unterberger's site, and lawyers began contacting him to ask questions about their own work or, in some cases, offer their services. "A friend said, 'Why don't you create a business plan and see where this can go?'" Unterberger says.
In 2000, Unterberger used his own finances to cover operational expenses, such as office supplies, legal fees and a consultant, to build www.legalwritingsuccess.com. Today, he's still a one-man operation working from home, but he's no longer the one giving the advice. He describes his site as a place where "love connections" are made between lawyers looking for part-time work and lawyers who need extra help on briefs, motions and other legal processes. For every connection he makes, Unterberger keeps about 35 percent of the cost of the assignment. He expects 2006 sales of over $100,000.